Ayana Fakhir can’t help but feel unnerved by how Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s divorce is playing out in the media.
That’s mostly because there are some uncanny parallels between how West is reacting to his impending divorce and how Fakhir’s ex-husband behaved when she left him in 2007.
West has tried to reach out to Kardashian by any means necessary: Asking mutual friends for her newly changed phone number and tagging the reality star in all-caps Instagram screeds calling her out for what he sees as parental alienation. She didn’t invite him to the birthday party she threw for their daughter Chicago, he claims. She didn’t ask his permission before allowing their 8-year-old daughter, North, to put on makeup or get on TikTok.
In Fakhir’s case, her ex texted her incessantly, left threatening voicemails on her phone and appeared at her work unannounced. This was pre-Instagram, so he couldn’t put her on blast there, but he did create a blog where he publicly questioned her parenting and lifestyle choices.
“He made multiple posts slandering me, publicizing our private marital business,” Fakhir, an attorney and mom of two living in northeast Ohio, told HuffPost. “He called me foul names and accused me of a host of things including welfare fraud, when I had never even applied for welfare benefits.”
He also was dead-set on stalling their divorce process. West, who formally changed his name to “Ye” last year, is reportedly doing the same thing. (Kardashian filed for divorce a year ago after nearly seven years of marriage and four kids.)
Even West’s over-the-top gesture on Valentine’s Day felt eerily familiar to Fakhir’s ex’s attempt to “win her back.” Though Kardashian has moved on with comedian Pete Davidson, West sent her a truckload of roses with lettering on the side of the customized vehicle reading, “MY VISION IS KRYSTAL KLEAR.” Fakhir’s ex would drop off bouquets of roses and cards at her parents’ home, where she was staying after their separation. (Luckily, her ex didn’t buy the house next door, as West has in Calabasas to be closer to the Kardashian clan.)
The whole pattern was West-esque: First, Fakhir said, her ex would intensely criticize her, then he’d lovebomb her, and then, when that didn’t work, he’d go back to criticizing her.
Given all these similarities ― and her lingering post-traumatic stress disorder ― Fakhir admits it’s been emotionally triggering to watch so many in the public make light of the “Donda” rapper’s behavior. Some in the media are portraying the story as pure entertainment ― a high-drama celebrity divorce to keep us entertained during a pandemic.
Meanwhile, plenty of Kardashian detractors are coolly dismissive of what’s occurring: You get the impression that some of them believe the reality star “deserves” to have her emotional abuse splashed all over social media because her family has so actively courted publicity over the last decade.
But what’s worse, Fakhir said, is seeing West’s young, impressionable, mostly male fans defend or encourage their favorite rapper’s fight to “bring [his] family back together.”
West’s posts are quick to disappear, which makes sense from a PR perspective: His ramblings have become increasingly unhinged the last few weeks, but his fanboys seem to eat it up.
Look at the comment section of any of West’s most recent Instagram posts and you’ll see them applauding his efforts, dropping fire emojis, and making promises to take Davidson out, if only West would say the word. (Others claim the erratic behavior is just “part of West’s album and doc rollout/promo,” further trivializing what’s happening to Kardashian and the couple’s children.)
“Watching all of that play out makes me anxious,” Fakhir said. “I feel like I’m breathing underwater when I see the media coverage and the comments. It takes me back to when no one believed he was the problem and accused me of being bitter and spiteful and angry.”
Fakhir isn’t alone. On Twitter, many people, mostly women, are sharing how much they sympathize with Kardashian’s plight because they, too, have been on the receiving end of public verbal abuse (or worse) from an angry ex.
“No, Kim K and Pete Davidson can’t see you laughing at Kanye’s insane posts, but the women in your life who have survived domestic abuse and stalking can,” one viral tweet reads.
The threat of violence is especially pronounced for married women who are newly separated from their exes: According to a 1995 U.S. Department of Justice report on violence against women, women separated from their husbands were three times more likely to have been assaulted than women who were divorced and 25 times more likely to have been assaulted than married women.
As Vox senior correspondent Jamil Smith put it on Twitter, the Kimye divorce is “a window into the kind of harassment, endangerment, and humiliation women face daily.”
Because social media gives hostile exes 24/7 access to harass their former spouses, the behavior is on the rise, said Virginia Gilbert, an LA-based therapist specializing in high-conflict divorce.
“Being bullied on social media is much more traumatic than reading emails and texts because social media is so public,” she told HuffPost. “If you’re a dramatic person, you want to share your dirty laundry on Instagram and Twitter to do more damage and gain more sympathy.”
Tina Swithin, a high-conflict divorce coach and the author of “Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield,” looks at West’s chaotic Instagram posts ― some of them needling and aggressive, others sympathy-courting ― and sees “textbook post separation abuse.”
“If there was ever a playbook for how to terrorize your soon-to-be ex-wife, he is using it and the patterns are both chilling and predictable,” Swithin said. “Most every so-called ‘high-conflict custody battle’ has three basic narratives: the abuser’s need for control, the abuser’s need to ‘win’ and the abuser’s desire to hurt or punish the healthy parent.”
“If there was ever a playbook for how to terrorize your soon-to-be ex-wife, he is using it.”
Kardashian has remained more tight-lipped than her ex, with the exception of one Instagram story statement earlier this month where she claimed that West’s attempts to “control and manipulate” the divorce has only caused “further pain” to their kids.
“Kanye’s narrative changes depending on the day, but the most recent theme is of a jilted husband who is in distress and mourning the breakdown of his marriage,” Swithin said. “In Kanye’s mind, he is entitled to date and move forward but if she tries to move forward a year later, he becomes unhinged and is openly threatening violence against her boyfriend.”
In one Instagram post, West encouraged any fans who encounter Davidson to “scream... at the top of your lungs and say Kimye forever.”
The rapper later posted a screenshot of what he said was a text from Kardashian, where she asked West to stop attacking Davidson because it’s “creating a dangerous and scary environment” for the comedian.
In a caption accompanying the image, West wrote: “Upon my wife’s request please nobody do anything physical to Skete Im going to handle the situation myself.”
On Tuesday, West shared an Instagram post saying he knows some of his posts have come across as “harassing Kim” and that he plans to “[take] accountability” ― though by Tuesday night, he had resumed posting old photos of Kardashian.
It’s West’s fixation on Kardashian moving on with someone new that reminds Evie, a 24-year-old from St. Louis, of her ex. (Like others in this story, Evie asked to use her first name only to protect her privacy.)
“Similarly to Kanye, my ex was posting publicly about our breakup, and he would openly make fun of the guy that I began seeing after we broke up,” she told HuffPost.
Evie’s ex wouldn’t leave her alone post-split: She would block his number, only to have him use his friends’ phones to call or text her. When she blocked his social media account, he’d pop up with a direct message from a new account. He’d email. He’d show up at her work unannounced. One time a guy who was staying over woke Evie up at 6 a.m. because her ex was outside banging on her bedroom window.
“I ended up getting a restraining order, and at the court hearing he got on his knees in front of the entire courtroom and begged for me not to go through with it,” Evie said. “When someone acts like that, it’s just really embarrassing and it’s also scary because it’s like, how far are they going to go? Why can’t you just let me move on and heal?”
The need to be sensitive to West’s mental health struggles ― he referred to his bipolar disorder on the album “Ye” and was hospitalized for a “psychiatric emergency” in 2016 ― further complicates what’s happening now.
Jenn, an administration support specialist in Ontario, Canada, and a mom of three, feels for Kardashian because she was in a similar situation when she left her marriage in 2015. Jenn said her ex-husband was physically and emotionally abusive toward her and had several mental health diagnoses, including schizophrenia. He also had substance abuse problems.
“Right now we all have a front row seat to the cycle of abuse that’s so common.”
As Jenn knows, there’s no winning as the spouse in this situation: If your partner hurts themselves, you’re blamed for not looking after them. If they apologize and you don’t accept, you’re coldhearted and dismissive of their show of progress.
“Putting up boundaries took years because I was scared of his reaction,” Jenn wrote HuffPost. “He’s now sober but still harasses me daily. My therapist says it’s possible to be mentally ill and also be an abusive partner outside that. I believe her but society doesn’t.”
Kardashian is in a “horribly toxic situation” right now, Jenn said, and it shouldn’t be romanticized. (It’s flabbergasting to see the number of women expressing sentiments along the lines of, “I need a man who’s gonna act like Kanye if I leave him,” on Twitter.)
“Right now we all have a front row seat to the cycle of abuse that’s so common,” she wrote. “It’s hard to reach a man like Kanye, but the support he receives and the lighthearted nature of all the media coverage is allowing this to be normalized. It’s just not OK.”
Jenn worries that the widespread acceptance of West’s behavior will only serve to embolden abusers.
“Kanye has a lot of eyes on him ― men in their 40s whose behavior is being reinforced by the support Kanye receives,” she said. “Then there’s the young men who are watching him and realizing that you can act like this and get away with it.”
Here’s what to do if you’re personally feeling triggered by this.
Swithin, the divorce coach mentioned earlier, recommends anyone who’s feeling especially triggered by the Kardashian-West divorce battle to connect with a trauma-informed therapist or a therapist who specializes in narcissistic abuse.
It’s also a good idea to take a break from the internet if you’re feeling overwhelmed. West may be giving everyone a front-row seat to his divorce, but you don’t have to sit down and watch it, said Gilbert, the therapist who specializes in high-conflict divorce.
Both experts recommend finding community. Swithin’s own One Mom’s Battle Facebook page has over 75,000 members. She said there are also private Facebook state chapters where people are very active in supporting one another in times of personal need and post calls to action when legislation and coercive control and domestic abuse bills pop up in their state. (Coercive control is nonphysical abuse such as psychological, financial and emotional abuse, including stalking, harassment, gaslighting, intimidation and threats.)
“This can be a very isolating journey in general and it’s very painful to watch Kanye’s fans validate or normalize his actions and behaviors,” Swithin said.
There is nothing about this situation that can simply be chalked up to your standard “celebrity divorce,” she said. “This is what it is like to divorce a narcissist. It’s time we call it what it is.”
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.